IN THE FORECAST
by Jnana Hodson
As I wrote at the time, everybody talks about the weather, or so they say. I believe them. I also listen with a grain of salt. To take a longer view and talk about the seasons, however, is another matter – one heightened in recent years by concerns about global warming and climatic upheaval. Living, as I have, in various locales in a band across the northern half of the United States, I’ve come to appreciate a wide ebb and flow of the seasons. Deep snowfall and subzero spells, crackling and booming thunderstorms, an extended spring – I’m not one for the monotonous sunshine of Florida or southern California. I want to be jolted and moved, with all the accompanying influence on my emotions and thinking. There are seasons for curling up late at night with a book; others for reading on the beach or under the trees. Times for shoveling snow or cross-country skiing; times for raking leaves and mulching. Each new place has meant adjusting my expectations and observing fine differences from what I had previously encountered. All this, before dealing directly with the variations from one year to another within a specific place.
Over the years, the repetition adds up to knowledge and expectation. At the winter solstice observations of Christmas and New Year’s, there’s anticipation before ordering garden seeds in January and bringing the grow lights up from the cellar so you may start the seedlings. Having the cross country boots and skis ready. Keeping an eye on the pussy willows, to collect their sprigs. Planting, harvesting, cooking, sharing, and preserving. There’s the anticipation of the sequence of flowers or garden produce, each to be savored in its moment. From asparagus, snow peas, and strawberries through to potatoes, garlic, and leaks. From snow lilies, forsythia, and crocus through to asters and Jerusalem artichokes. Ordering firewood early, so it will season properly. Calling the chimney sweep and annual furnace checkup. Making room in the compost bins for October leaves. Trimming the hedges. And that’s just from a homeowner’s and urban gardener’s perspective. Normally, I wouldn’t be writing in July – my attic workspace simply becomes too stuffy, but some years are an exception. There are other fronts. We’ve brewed ales in late autumn and lagers in deep winter, to take advantage of the favored requirements of each yeast. There’s also the seasonal flow of paying taxes and insurance, registering the car, taking a vacation, enjoying holidays. We also see academic years, baseball and football seasons, opera and symphony seasons, television seasons. The challenge comes in not falling behind, but to instead preparing for the next stage. Here come the tomatoes, here comes the sweet corn. Pace yourself for the playoffs. Budget accordingly.
One’s domestic and workplace demands also factor into the seasons. Living in a monastic retreat in the mountains or on a commercial fruit farm in a desert provides much different outlooks than I found in a large city or suburbs. Access to mountains or ocean shores has a much different perspective than living in the Great Plains or along the Mississippi River. These days I’ve had a long commute through largely forested countryside, and bad weather could wreak havoc.
Talking about the weather, of course, can also mean doing something about it. Or at least, something within it. Water the garden, if need be. Postpone a long drive in the face of a blizzard, or try to beat it. Open the windows, or close them. Dress properly. Head for the water. Light a fire.
Our concern at hand, though, has nothing to do with weather and everything to do with cyclical growth and change. There’s nothing original in looking at an individual’s life span as a matter of seasonal changes. Gail Sheehy’s acclaimed Passages, after all, carries the telling subtitle: Predictable Crises of Adult Life. Decade by decade.
What I find fascinating is casting an awareness of seasonal change to matters of religious faith and practice. From an individual perspective, this can be seen as a single span that covers an entire lifetime (a life-year) or as the repeated variations from one year to another. There’s a Hindu model that includes a student stage (including celibacy) leading into householding and employment, and finally retreat and withdrawal. There are also annual seasons that overlap in the repeated years, which play into liturgical calendars or, in the example of my own denomination, the Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, into rounds of queries we address one month at a time. Sometimes a person flowers profusely for a short but intense period, and ceases a particular quest or practice; we see them among us, and then we don’t. Others turn into perennials. There are also the seasons of faith communities. My own congregation, for instance, two decades ago overflowed with children who have now grown and moved away, leaving a vacuum. The ashram where I lived after college closed without a trace. Some churches find joy in nurturing “baby Christians,” adults encountering the dimensions of the New Testament for the first time – presumably, also needing some shelter from congregational politics. Cycles, then. To die off, or be renewed.
I’ve come to refer to these as Seasons of the Spirit. My emphasis is on the individual experiences, especially as they come together in the collected life of faith traditions. Although some people are able to steadfastly maintain a particular spiritual discipline over the years – for instance, reading Scripture for a half-hour every morning or praying for others for a half-hour every evening – many of the rest of us rely more on a zigzag journey, something quite different from what we envision when Jesus speaks of a straight and narrow path. Within the juggling act of our homes and jobs, we might find ourselves focusing intensely on prayer for a while, or the Bible, or fasting, or teaching Sunday School – but each one rolls away for something else. The old Wilburite Quakers would call this being inconsistent, but it seems the best we can do in our embrace of life.